GIVEAWAY details at the bottom of the post!!!
I am a late-in-life fan of mushrooms. I was, in fact, one of those children who physically recoiled from mushrooms and tomatoes. And as I harass my own son at the dinner table for never trying anything new, and actually working himself up to physical illness should we try to force anything upon him, I say little prayers of confession seeking forgiveness from my mother for being the EXACT same child 30 (some-odd) years ago. My line was…”Mommy, I don’t like kisses or pomatoes!” My how things change.
But what I missed in childhood, you can see I am making up in ”adulthood.” And I really love mushrooms now. They are so…genuine. They don’t pull you in with sweetness or flashy colors. They reflect the earth. They look like the dirt. They are sort of dirty when you get them. And they taste decidedly earthy.
I don’t think you get any points in the “appreciating the bounty of the Earth” department for eating apples, for instance. They are obvious. In the plant world, they are showy and well dressed and sweet. But when you eat mushrooms, you are partaking in a sublime celebration of the earth…it is a fungus, after all. And it is an incomparable delight, if you like them. I like them. A lot.
This recipe is simple. It couldn’t be easier. It is all about the mushrooms. The only non-mushroom ingredients are stock, cream, garlic, salt and pepper. The variety of garlic I used is called Purple Dog Paw. Did I mention Pitts brought me several bags of garlic from his cousin Hope in Vermont? Well this is a big, flavorful, knobby, garlic which is Bulgarian in origin.
The very clever bit in the recipe is a “mushroom dust” that is added for a punch of extra strong mushroom flavor and a lovely hint of sea salt and pepper. I adapted this recipe from one in the English Homes & Gardens Magazine (October 2010). One major variation was using heavy whipping cream instead of English double cream which has a much higher fat content and would probably yield a thicker and richer soup. I found that using one and a half cups of heavy cream was more than sufficient for a decadent and creamy soup. This would make about 4 bowls of soup which, served with hot crusty bread, would fill up just about anyone. But it is extraordinarily rich and I think it would shine in smaller servings as an appetizer.
350g button, chestnut, or shiitake mushrooms
250g large flat mushrooms
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, sliced
400ml chicken stock (I used 1-14 oz. can of low sodium chicken broth)
30g dried mushrooms, broken up (divided use)…I bought 2 (1oz.) bags and used both but had plenty left over
350ml heavy whipping cream (1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Wipe off the mushrooms and chop them into chunks. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or stockpot. Add the fresh mushrooms and garlic to the oil and sauté for about 3 minutes. You will know you are there when the mushrooms change from stubbornly dry to all of a sudden wet, and releasing all of their beautiful juices. Add the boiling stock or broth and half of the dried mushrooms. Put a lid on the pot and allow the mushrooms to simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the dust. Combine the remaining dried mushrooms, the peppercorns and the sea salt. In a food processor, or a spice grinder, or with and immersion blender, whiz up the mushrooms until they form a powder. This is not as easy as it sounds. My processor was too large and my immersion blender kept getting chunks stuck in it, so be patient and keep going at it. You don’t want big chunks in this because then you will be chewing on little rocks of mushroom which is not the idea at all.
When the 10 minutes of simmering have elapsed, remove the mushrooms from the heat and add the cream to the stockpot. Use the immersion blender or food processor to fully blend the mixture. Check for seasoning and add a little salt and pepper if necessary, but bear in mind that the dust is salty, too, so don’t overdo it.
Serve the soup with a flourish of the dust and perhaps a little swirl of cream.
I hope you have access to good mushrooms. If you can actually go harvest some, well, I’m afraid that I hate you. But you don’t have to have fancy mushrooms to do this. Portobello and button mushrooms are now widely available. As for the dried mushrooms, I found some beautiful organic shiitake and matsutake dried mushrooms from a company called Fungus AmongUs. The name alone makes me happy. But it was an excellent product. I was happy to find a combination package of fresh mushrooms that had shiitake, portobello and button mushrooms included in one package. To make the right weight, I grabbed two (8 oz.) packages of those, one extra portobello cap, and a handful of plain button mushrooms. Does this sound like I know something about mushrooms? I don’t. Let’s be honest…I just grabbed what looked pretty and it all worked out great. I avoided the painfully expensive varieties, and that was just about my only guideline. I discovered in writing this post that it appears that button, baby bella, crimini and portobello mushrooms are all actually the exact same species, Agaricus bisporus, at different stages of maturity and that the names are all marketing conventions (although there are flavor variations). Can any of you mycophiles confirm this? I was surprised. I need to go to mushroom school.
As for the sea salt I used here, I chose it for its unique color. It is called Alaea, and it is a Hawaiian sea salt. I found it in the bulk foods section of Whole Foods. I am thankful for that option because it allows me to buy a few tablespoons of an exotic ingredient instead of blowing twelve dollars on a whole container. Mushrooms don’t evoke a very Hawaiian mood in me, but I like the color so here we are.
GIVEAWAY: The nice folks at FungusAmongUs got in touch with me and offered to give a PIE reader a bottle of their Balsamic Vinaigrette with White Truffle. Leave a comment to let me know you are interested and “LIKE” FungusAmongUs on Facebook. When I contact the winner on MONDAY November 22, 2010, you will have 48 hours to get back to me. If I cannot reach you in that time, I will draw another name. GOOD LUCK! And, thank you FungusAmongUs.